First Kea To The Stratosphere

October 21st, 2022

Kea Aerospace’s most recent stratospheric balloon flight proved three critical things: tech development, completing a student project and that “Kelly the Kea” is officially now a stratonaut. The flight reached an altitude of over 100,000 feet, that’s 30+ kilometres, during Kea Aerospace’s latest high-altitude balloon launch on October 15th. Kea’s are renowned for their intelligence and curiosity and Kelly is an adventurer ambassador for this clever alpine parrot species. Kelly was there to oversee the operation of a series of scientific experiments to drive forward the company’s R&D goals and to also raise awareness for kea conservation. 


Stratospheric Balloon Flight Testing

High-altitude balloon systems can provide multiple opportunities, such as:

  1. Testing of high altitude operations and equipment under real stratospheric conditions.
  2. Training platform for students.
  3. Carrier platform for additional experimental and scientific payloads.

October’s balloon flight mission was an important test of Kea Aerospace’s flight operations system. Reaching ambient temperatures of -50 Degrees Celsius, we again achieved successful thermal control of the payload box. We successfully tested the satellite communications system and new antenna to ensure regular communications during the entire balloon flight. These systems will be used for the Kea Atmos Mk1 solar-powered stratospheric aircraft. Future high-altitude balloon launches will, for example, focus on the verification of Kea Aerospace’s long-range communication systems for the Kea Atmos Mk1 and specific sensor systems.

The pre-flight simulations of the launch were overall very accurate and, together with real-time tracking via the ground control station software, the flight crew could not only recover the system and all payload components safely but even observe the actual landing from a few hundred metres away. This is an outstanding achievement considering the balloon travel distance of around 40 kilometres. For this balloon flight, the launch team decided to test an automated flight termination at 31 kilometres altitude.


Student Final Year Project

Kea Aerospace’s University of Canterbury Final Year Project team designed an independent payload to demonstrate active heating and cooling methods in stratospheric conditions, providing the company with valuable data to validate existing models used for the development of the Kea Atmos stratospheric aircraft. The payload would also record environmental measurements such as internal and external temperature, pressure, UV radiation, as well as light intensity.

The team consisted of five members. Mechanical engineers James Courtier, Jennifer Berry, and Emily Kneale led the thermal modelling, enclosure design, and thermal management threads of the project, whilst mechatronics engineer Joshua Sinclair worked with electrical engineer Carrick Corson to design and integrate the electronics and control system into the payload.

The balloon flight was a huge success for the student team, they gathered fantastic data which is currently being processed and analysed in preparation for their Final Year Report due at the end of this month. The team are incredibly proud of what has been achieved in just eight months and were thrilled to work on such an exciting project in their last year of studies.


Kea Conservation

Of course, the cheeky kea bird is close to our hearts here at Kea Aerospace, so we have setup up an auction on Trade Me for “Kelly the Kea”. This will be an opportunity to own the first kea that’s ventured to the stratosphere. Much more than a “plush toy” and standing at a tall stature of 5cm with a 10cm wingspan, this gorgeous felted kea was a commissioned artwork designed by Little Wolf Studio.

All proceeds from the “Kelly the Kea” stratonaut auction will go to the Kea Conservation Trust. Even though we often see kea flying around the South Island’s alpine environs, they are highly endangered due to factors such as predation and lead poisoning. It’d be great if you donate to the Kea Conservation Trust directly or bid high on the auction to contribute to preserving an absolute national treasure. And don’t forget to place your vote at Bird of the Year!